Many fishermen will tell you those multiple levels of regulation can be frustrating and counter-productive to the industry. But there have been positive side effects of such demands to abide by environmental and safety regulations.
Just as the ships in which they sail have evolved over the years from schooners to today’s powerful vessels, so too have the tools of the trade used by the modern-day fishermen. The growth of the industry in New Jersey has allowed the state to see first-hand the latest in fishing and aquaculture technology.
After water-quality issues arose in the mid-20th Century, restrictions were placed on the harvesting of shellfish off northern New Jersey. Instead of abandoning that market, the industry set out to create the technology necessary to keep it thriving. Clams harvested in designated waters off Monmouth County cannot be marketed directly. They must first undergo a self-cleansing process to purge themselves of bacterial impurities or contaminants they may have ingested through the water.
Two depuration plants currently operate in Monmouth County. One is privately financed while the other uses several sources of grant funding. After the first plant opened in Monmouth County, the number of clammers increased and the harvest grew by about 50 percent. An additional depuration plant is part of the Bayshore Development Office’s project, as is a shellfish processing facility using high hydrostatic pressure (HHP), a technique that increases the safety and shelf life of the product, but which can be costly to implement.
Updated technology also helps the fisherman at sea. Beyond the modern equipment that helps captains find fish easier, many of the vessels at New Jersey’s ports are equipped with on-board flash freezers or refrigerated sea water systems, giving them an advantage in keeping fish aboard, especially during hotter summer months.
A good glimpse into how technology and modern understanding can help revive the shellfish industry can be found in the New York/New Jersey Baykeeper program, a volunteer group working to re-establish oyster beds in three key locations – Liberty Flats to the south of the Statue of Liberty, the Raritan Bay in Keyport and the Navesink River near Oyster Point in Red Bank.
On a recent humid afternoon, volunteers from the NY/NJ Baykeepers loaded bags of young oysters onto boats docked behind Bahr’s Landing in Atlantic Highlands for a trip up to Oyster Point. The oysters were the product of “remote setting” – the attachment and metamorphosis of hatchery-raised oyster larvae to clam shell substrate – in tanks operated by the Baykeeper group, Brookdale Community College and Bahr’s Landing.
As Baykeeper’s oyster program technician Katie McCrone explained, the oysters were to be taken to a restored reef at Oyster Point. The program began in 1999 at the Liberty Flats site, and has been underway in the Navesink River since 2002.